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Other stories.


Kit Reviewer
We've got a few tales here from Rhodies and Zim, SA, SWA, Angola and 'Bique, but as we all know soldiering gets into the blood of some of us and the locs change.

I've one from a friend here, give it a squizz and tell me if there's mileage in posting more of these types of story, and if you have one yourself feel free to slam it in.

He was no angel. By no means. He drank. Not just water.
And smoked. Not just cigarettes. Something which probably contributed to his sudden demise.
Where he died in Africa, ‘on active service’, there is no grave. All that remained at first was one big hole, now long gone.
He and his mate don’t feature in any publication about the Southern Sudan’s long and bloody liberation war.
It is like they didn’t even exist.

And when the country finally got its independence, there was no parade in his honour, no mention of his and his mate’s momentous contribution, not even any kind of recognition.
Though there are all sorts of heroes, titled role-players and political, military and even clerical figures named, listed and lauded when you read in the net about the freedom struggle waged by the black Anyanaya fighters against their Arab oppressors.
President Aggrey Jaden, Commander-in-Chief Joseph Lagu, General Moshe Dayan, President Gordon Muortat Mayen, Dr John Garang, Colonel Rolf Steiner, three ranked Israeli agents, and even a catholic priest, Father Saturnino, who did sterling work mobilising the Christian world, and was murdered for his pains. The one more important than the other.

But nowhere do you find any mention of one Fenton Kirby, combat name ‘Rip’, – in fact, I, who know the story from his mate, don’t even know if I got the name right.
Neither of his mate, a typically competent, but modest British NCO, who had seen action in the Congo and later went on to serve in Rhodesia and South Africa.

This story started in 1970 or thereabouts, after the war in Biafra had come to an end. When the two whiteys walked across the southern border with their savings to sustain themselves independently for some time.
To join the few hundred ‘Anyenya’ fighters and their families, who had fled into the more remote regions of the southern Sudan. Most of them belonging to the tall, proud, cattle-rearing Dinka tribe, they had few weapons and even less food, as they were now dependent on the increasingly scarce resources of the locals around them.
But under the command of their leader Gordon Muortat Mayen, they were determined to make war against Arab Muslim rule from the north, welcoming the arrival of the two able and experienced European soldiers. Who were given ‘African’ names, as is the custom on the continent, Rip’s mate henceforth being ‘Fashoda’. And who set about rectifying the most urgent need first: The lack of food. Food which was walking about in abundance the other side of the Sudanese-Congolese border.
So the experienced white NCO’s went across into the wild reaches of the Congo with a platoon or so of Anyenyas and shot big game ‘for the pot’, as it were.
While the Dinkas, as cattle-men, had no idea about hunting, they were more than able to cut out and carry the meat back across the border, – and eat it, thereby fulfilling Napoleon’s first dictum: An army marches on its stomach…

The two mates then started the training, concentrating on a core group of not more than a company.
Weapons and ammunition would always be in short supply, though, over time, the situation improved somewhat, as some filtered through from the other side of the Nile.
There, three Israelis had set up an advisory and liaison post with another, higher-up Anyenya leader.

Behind the scenes, and far above the two whiteys’ level, there was a lot of political conniving, scheming, in-fighting and power-playing among the different Southern Sudanese tribes and leaders.
But, at the end of the day, the two friends were left alone and supported to carry on with the job of transforming their small Dinka group into what was probably the most effective and successful Anyenya unit.
Whether the overall leadership appreciated this, we don’t know. Not that one can blame them if they didn’t, what with all the other more eloquent, connected, clever and high-ranking advisers, trainers and officers from Israel, Germany, France and wherever, who appeared and disappeared on the scene. Sometimes literally.
I suppose all of them contributed in one way or another, especially the Israelis, who had the full backing of their state’s military and its stores of captured weapons and mines behind them.

But down on the ground, there where you live and sweat and train and march together and weld soldiers into fighting units, Rip and his mate stood unique.
A fact silently acknowledged when, after the first peace agreement, their little unit was fetched to the capital to become the presidential guard….

Back to the beginnings and the daily grindstone.
The two mates quietly continued their training and preparation, gaining the trust and respect of their young Dinka fighters.
Sitting in Rip’s mate’s little home far away in London so many decades after, one can see the old man’s eyes light up with pride when he talks about them.
At some stage, they moved north, into the swamps near Bor, one of the many Arab garrisons along the river on the way down to the southern capital Juba. There, among the river Dinkas, they set up a base from where hit-and-run guerrilla operations could be launched against the numerically and materially far superior enemy forces.

The regime in Khartoum was increasingly relying on the Soviets for military aid to keep the restless south under control.
Plus it had been, and was still, royally supplied with military hardware by their former colonial masters, the British.
So at Bor there were Saracens and Saladin armoured cars, ready to rush out and engage any of the barefoot fighters cheeky enough to oppose them.

The little unit around the two whiteys started with mining the road, laying down old British and Soviet anti-vehicle mines in tandem.
When the Arabs came rushing down the road, they set them off, suffering, for the first time, heavy casualties.
Angered, the garrison commander at Bor decided to hit the Anyenyas there where it hurt most, in their villages.
His informants, – of which there were many, – had told him about a rebel group under the command of a major, who were more or less idling away in their village.
In a sudden early-morning attack, they roared out of the bush, flattened the huts, and rounded up the inhabitants.
The major managed to get away, running for miles in front of his pursuers. When he finally reached safety, he collapsed and died from a heart attack.
Back at the river, the Arabs shot 38 of the village’s men and boys, throwing the bodies into the water. One of them, managing to remain conscious despite of his gunshot wound, swam the river and survived to tell the tale.

It was time to strike back.
Bor being too big a base to take on, it was decided to take out one of its outposts to the north, manned by what was believed to be a platoon.
So, with about 40 men, Rip and his mate set out at night.
First they mined the road north out of Bor, leaving the survivors of the late major’s group behind as an ambush party.
Then they moved in on the outpost. Spreading out along the river, facing the enemy position from the direction he least expected, they launched the assault on the entrenched enemy.
Fashoda out in front, as usual, In the time-honoured tradition of the brave and fearless NCO he was. Unfortunately for him, Bor had sent up reinforcements, including a sniper. A shot hit him in the head, throwing him down.
The momentum of the attack he led, however, carried the rest of his men over the trenches and into the enemy base, where they proceeded to kill and capture those who didn’t manage to flee.
Rip himself shot down the sniper.

Back at Bor, alerted by the shooting, the garrison sent out their armoured cars, which promptly drove into the ambush.
The major’s men ran away, but the mines didn’t.
Once again, heavy casualties among the armoured car crews and hangers-on and a withdrawal back to base. Leaving the Anyenyas the undisputed victors, proud of their first ever successful attack on an Arab base.

But the success had come at a cost. Fashoda was seriously wounded, more than was realised at first, when he slowly got up and started walking back with the rest of his men.
They had suffered minimal casualties, – three dead and a few wounded, – but now they had to stop every now and again, waiting for the white man, who kept slipping in and out of unconsciousness.
Finally, they had to carry him back to base, where they realised his injury might turn out to be life-threatening. A runner was sent off to ‘HQ’ to the south to the other side of the Nile, to fetch a ‘bone-setter’, also referred to in our world as a witch-doctor. Who arrived more than a week later to remove the shattered pieces of bone out of the white man’s head.
Which probably saved his life, though the scars, and some after-effects, would remain with him forever after.

On the island in the middle of the Nile marsh, Fashoda slowly recovered, but was more or less restricted to light duties.
To keep the pressure up on the enemy, Rip went out with a detachment to put in another mine ambush.
On his own, without his senior’s restraints, he decided to improve on their mining by putting in his own anti-lift device.
No one knows what exactly went on in his head, when on that fateful night he put his men in all-round defense and started the dangerous work of laying and booby-trapping the mines.
All we know is what the young Anyenya soldier closest to him, who was blinded by the blast, told afterwards.
That he shouted a warning when he heard the hissing of the anti-personnel mine Rip had pulled the pin out of, and that soon afterwards all the linked-up mines blew.
It is said the garrison in close-by Bor literally shat itself and stood by their guns the rest of the night and well into the next day….

When news of the disaster reached the Anyenya base, morale plummeted.
Though shattered himself, Fashoda, being the hardened and effective leader of men he was, straight away implemented a program of weapons drill and exercises to take his men’s mind off and slowly but surely build their fighting spirit up again.
As soon as possible, he walked down to the site of the explosion, where there was, literally, nothing left of his mate.
Only a moer of a hole in the ground, – and his singed hat. And a little piece of bone, possibly from his hip.

Like so many of his peers who believed more in deeds than in talk , Rip’s mate and friend was not a very overtly religious and well-speaking man. So he did not stop there and hold a service or even just say a few words.
But when he had reached this part of his story, there in his little kitchen in a little suburb of London, I could see he had difficulty carrying on talking.
He lapsed into silence, his eyes seemed to be filling up with something , and he turned his head to look out the window to try and hide his embarrassment.
I could see that even now, more than forty years later, the loss of his comrade, who had shared so much of their incredible work, hardship and adventure in the middle of the beloved, far-away continent, was hurting badly. And took the soul out of his will to continue.
His injury played a role, certainly, but it was the loss of Rip which made him leave a few months after. Walking all the way to the border, escorted by his loyal men.
And then into Ethiopia, from where he returned to England. Leaving behind ‘his’ fighters, who continued the guerrilla war he was so instrumental in placing on the road to success.
Fighters who maintained, I am sure, a fond and unforgettable memory of the upright, extremely competent and thoroughly honest white NCO’s who came and lived and fought with them for a good cause.
A cause which, so refreshing in the history of modern Africa, where the baddies always win, eventually succeeded and created a new and independent state free from Arab rule.
A state which has conveniently forgotten two whiteys called Fashoda and Rip. Whiteys who brought their own skills, and money, and never received a cent from the people they served.

The hole Rip’s sudden departure left in the African soil will have been closed long ago, the memory even among his men and friends is fading until one day it will be gone completely, – but, hopefully, the wonderful example they set, and the tradition of black and white standing and fighting together, will one day again lead to a better Africa than the one so many Africans are now fleeing.
Memories. Spent a lot of time in that area and Bor was one of the places we had to avoid as they were a bit trigger happy if you got within range.

This is what's left of the Jonglei canal, not too far from Bor...

Good rapportage, Cuts, but I don't think many on here have the attention span.

Not that that will deter(r) you :-D
Thoroughly enjoyed the tale. Perhaps he should publish with you as his ghost writer and agent.
Heh, sweet thought, and I'm the best ghostwriter ever (others can do that weird PR agenty thing), but I suspect Nkosi Maximus would be a tokoloshe nightmare to work with...
Interesting, and thank you very much.
RIP 'Rip'.
He gets mentions in Forsyth's Dogs of War.

(Shannon} knew there were three separate groups of mercenaries operating in South Sudan, helping the Christian blacks in their civil war against the Arab North. In Bahr-el-Gazar two other British mercenaries, Ron Gregory and Rip Kirby, were leading a small operation of Dinka tribesmen, laying mines along the roads used by the Sudanese army in an attempt to knock out their British Saladin armored cars.


A year later Semmler sold out his share to Waldenberg, who raised a mortgage to pay for it. Then Semmler went off to another war. He died in South Sudan, when he, Ron Gregory, and Rip Kirby were laying a mine to knock out a Sudanese Saladin armored car. The mine went off, killing Kirby instantly and badly injuring Semmler and Gregory. Gregory got home via the British Embassy in Ethiopia, but Semmler died in the bush.


Kit Reviewer
Another one, involving an incident known to all from the Parabats but written from another angle.

Few people realise, or remember, the importance of the so-called comics in our bush- and border wars.
Not the sort of comics you read as a kid,
imagining yourself as Captain Caprivi or Mark Condor shooting up hundreds of Commies with thousand-round magazines.

No, the comics I am talking about were the intercepts of enemy radio messages done by those secretive ‘Brush’ boys in their shacks with those long and funny antennae tucked away behind a base somewhere.
We called them comics, because we often laughed at the funny names and phrases used by Swapos struggling with the Queen’s English.

And since they were often so funny, we, the platoons and wing on the ground, didn’t always give them the importance, and relevance, they deserved.

But they were very popular reading material, being fed back regularly to units like 32 Battalion.
Sometimes whole operations were initiated,
or cancelled, based on what the Brush boys had passed on.
In between the funny parts, they did tell of Swapo and Fapla units and deployments and plans.
So that we knew who our enemy was, what he did, where he was hanging out, and sometimes even what he was planning to do.

One specific operation where we learnt the hard way that it does not pay to ignore these ‘comics’ was Operation Meebos, in the winter 1982.
Elements of 61 Mechanised Battalion, the Parachute Battalion and 32 were busy cruising or walking around and trying to find the enemy south and east of Cuvelai,
the southernmost Fapla garrison and Swapo safe harbour.

One of the funny aspects of our ‘comics’ were the names Swapo had given to their battalions.
According to Brush, the terrorists we were looking for were three of their ‘elite’ battalions: The ‘Special Forces Battalion’, the ‘Airforce Battalion’ and their ‘Navy Battalion’.
This in the midddle of the dry African bush, for an enemy who did not even know what an aircraft looked like, never mind having them.
On top of that, it was believed that one of them, I forgot which, had as its task to look after Swapo’s cattle herd…

But they had hundreds of armed fighters, and, more important to us, the very effective and deadly Soviet 14,5mm anti-aircraft guns, three or four to a battalion. And these three units had, according to the intercepts, come together in one place somewhere south-west of Cuvelai.

As the reconnaissance wing of our battalion we, the Omauni boys, were given the task of finding them.
While back at the Tac HQ, well north and east of the suspected target area, a powerful reaction force had been assembled, from 61 Mech with their Ratel IFV’s, to Paras and 32 Infantry companies.
Plus airforce gunships and Puma helicopters to be able to deploy and support the troops when and where needed.

All this under the command of a certain citizen force Colonel who probably owed his rank and appointment to his being a well-connected old toppie, having climbed the promotional ladder in some socially active, but operationally peaceful and quiet home defence unit back in South Africa.

Shades of General Cronje during the Anglo-Boer War…

We were not overly concerned with this, having seen them come and go.
Most of these Tac HQ commanders did realise their shortcomings when confronted with platoon- and company commanders who'd been fighting out in the bush for years, they then acted accordingly, asking advice and listening to the man on the ground.

So we set off on our reconnaissance, consisting of a few 4-man teams - with myself in charge. Whether this was because the men followed me out of loyalty or simply curiosity to see where the heck I might be going, I still haven’t figured out to this day.
The ‘comics’ had said the three enemy battalions were somewhere between the main Mupa-Cuvelai road and the Calonga river, in the Mui ‘river’ area.
My normal funk and jitters had increased ten-fold just thinking of the twelve or so 14,5 guns waiting for us somewhere.

Being dropped off well away to the north, I decided to first sneak round - carefully, very carefully - and check possible movement in or out to try and confirm the general position of the target area before going in closer.
We moved at night and lay up by day of course.

So we crossed the Calonga first, at what we saw as a kind of a weir, an easy crossing point.
Back at the Tac HQ we had left behind the usual little tactical headquarters of our own, consisting of a tent, the necessary radio with its rather effective G5RV antenna and our dependable Swiss, Peter Polzin with his radio log, in which he meticulously wrote down each and every message.

We, and he, were under command of the big Tac HQ right next door, but we had learnt not to trust them to be able to pick our morse signals up which we sometimes sent in the middle of the night when comms were poor.
So we had our own little set-up which proved its worth many times.

Once over the river, we moved south and then east back over the river, by which time we were well south of the suspect area.
All the time watching for spoor and being rewarded by quite a few tracks and paths pointing in the direction of the alleged enemy camp.
The occasional explosions we heard on the same compass bearing seemed to confirm its presence.

It was time-consuming work, and then one night a snake bit our resident ‘mensch’, Martin as we were tiptoeing through the bush. (Can’t always tell a snake’s taste, can you ?)

You can just imagine us going into all-round defence, with him in the middle, busy croaking, and our radioman trying to raise our HQ to get the doctor on the line.
We got through in the end, by morse as usual, with the Doc talking back in voice.
From our side we asked what to give him to make his last hours on earth a little bit more comfortable as he was clearly not going to make it, seemingly saying his last prayers.
While all the doctor wanted to know was what the snake looked like.
WTF ? How should we fcuking know, in the middle of the pitch-black night in thick bush ?
Anyway, between our initial tourniquet, the Doc’s eventual advice, a few more desperate prayers, and probably Martin’s fitness, to our, (and his,) great relief, he missed his appointment with the Pearly Gates.
And we carried on sneaking through the bush.

Our rations had run out and I decided to stop and ask for a re-sup before going in closer for a last-night reconnaissance as we had often done before, with the attack then going in at first light.
The Swaps knew we were in the general area – that’s why they had pulled together, apparently - but so far the choppers had stayed well away from the suspect area for obvious reasons.

So I wrote out and sent a message accordingly, describing the location of where we thought we had now confirmed the general area of the enemy concentration, laying out the plan for the next, final phase, and asking for the re-sup to be able to carry on.
Emphasizing that the choppers coming out to us must come via a round-about route,
sraying well clear of the enemy battalions so as not to give the game away.
And then we waited.

The answer we received back was not what I had expected.
“No,” it said, “we won’t send a re-sup, – we’ll sommer pick you up and bring you back!” WTF ?
Well ours not to reason why, they should know what they are doing.
Maybe there’s something else on the go, all we can do is to get ready for pick-up.
And a day or two in Tac HQ with a wash and a big plate of food would go down well, come to think of it.

But I first sent off another message, duly recorded by our conscientious Swiss, once again emphasizing that, whatever they do,
they must NOT overfly the suspect area to our north-east, as that’s where the enemy was.
They’ll take off if we get too close, was the implication…

When the choppers came, it was from the west, so they must have done what we had asked them to do.
Whatever the clever dicks at the Tac HQ had planned now, at least they had not spooked the Swaps north-east of us.

We got in and then we took off – straight north-east in a direct line to the Tac HQ !
I was sitting in the door, fuming.

The bush was shifting beneath us as the Puma sped at tree-top level over the Angolan countryside.
Here and there there were clearly visible vehicle tracks.
We must be flying directly over the bastards, I thought, and now we can say good-bye to any chance of catching them in their lair.
What the hell was that idiot of a Tac HQ commander thinking ?

The danger we were in didn’t even enter my mind, we were so used to be the hunters, and the enemy the ones running away, and anyway, anyone who has ever flown like that in the war knows that low-flying choppers are damn hard to catch.

When you hear them coming your way,
before you can get yourself organised they've already raced right over you and are gone.
As it was, we did fly right over those three battalions. With their terrible 14,5’s. But they weren’t ready.
Not yet….

When we landed and got out, there were several para ‘valke’, 12-man sticks, waiting to be uplifted.
It seemed they had been waiting for us, so now the whole fleet could take off.
Solly, one of the pilots, heard me swearing and mouthing off as I walk over to the big ops-tent of Colonel so-and-so.

The Colonel wasn't interested in my beef and took me to the big map. “You people are too slow. I can’t wait till you are finished, there are too many troops lying around here doing nothing. So I’ve decided to bring you back and FLUSH the whole area with troops, somewhere someone must then hit something, and then we’ve got them….”
I could see the whole area was indeed ‘flushed’ with stickers, as he had marked out the different positions where the troops were now going to be deployed.
I said nothing, what could I say ?
He was obviously on his own wicket and didn’t need us anymore.
Carry on, I thought, see where it gets you...

Meanwhile I had heard all the choppers taking off with several paratroop ‘valke’ on board.
Walking slowly towards our own little ops tent, I was still grumbling to myself. "Flushing the area, until someone hits something" indeed.
They’ll be long gone, I thought, now that he had ignored my advice and had us flown right over the enemy camp.
But I was wrong. The enemy wasn’t gone.
On the contrary.

And no troops of ours would hit the enemy, they would hit us instead.
The Pumas, on their route to ‘flush’ the area with the paratroopers on board, flew out exactly the same route which the one who picked us up had flown in.
But now the Swapo gunners were ready.

Twelve 14.5’s put up such a deadly,
devastating curtain, that the first chopper was ripped to pieces, while the next one barely succeeded in diving away and saving itself.
And the rest, both Pumas and gunships,
couldn’t even get close to the scene of the crash.
Twelve parabats and three aircrew gone, just like that.

At the Tac HQ, behind me chaos broke out as the message came through and sunk in.
It was hell to pay now, both in the air and there by us on the ground. Panic stations.
We were all stunned, to say the least.

No one knew what to do now. Least of all the clever Colonel.
Though Solly the pilot knew exactly what he wanted to do, and that was to beat the Colonel up, a plan we did sympathise with, but had to hold him physically back from implementing.

It was clear that only a strong mechanised force like 61 Mech would be able to get through, but it was already late in the day and as far as I remember, they would not be able to get there before the next morning.
We sat in our own tent and brooded. And looked at our own map.
Slowly our brains started working again. PWhat are the Swaps going to do now ?”
We agree they must know we will come with enough force to take them out, with everything we’ve got, so they’ll move.
“Where to ?”
The safest, for them, seems to be across the river, in a north-westerly direction, in a line more or less through where we ourselves crossed by that weir a few days ago.
And they’ll do it tonight, tomorrow will be too late for them.
We look at each other and nod.
I’m the one who has to go see the Colonel. Understandably, he is open to any suggestion which might save something from his fcuk-up.

So just before last light, choppers lift off with a few of our 4-man teams on board to drop them around the weir, in OP, ambush and listening positions.
And I go sit by Peter the Swiss, letting myself be spoilt by numerous fire-buckets of tea. Taking turns to listen out on the radio in case someone picks something up.

It turns out to be a long night.
We communicate with the teams on the ground, they to us in morse, we to them in voice.
I’m a bit worried about them, imagining three Swapo battalions literally walking over one of our little teams in my mind.
Someone, I can’t remember who, in the very early hours of the morning, picked up the first da’s and dit’s, as PW called for Zero on the radio.
It was still dark, but his message said he could hear cattle. Cattle ?
Although he was miles away I could hear his grey cells ticking over.
"Are you thinking what I am thinking ?" I asked.
“R” came back the morse reply.
I went over to the Colonel’s tent and told him our thoughts. Our blokes can hear cattle mooing by the weir on the river and we think it’s the Swaps who are crossing and pulling out. “One of the Swapo battalions is looking after their cattle and it might be them,” I explain.
“Bullshit,” he says, “I can’t re-deploy all our forces just because your guys hear cattle mooing. We’ve got work to do this morning, everything and everybody is moving in on where the Puma was shot down yesterday. Leave me alone…”

“Up yours, too!” I think and walk back, telling PW to stand by and keep his eyes peeled.
Soon, the choppers take off, on their way to the crash site where 61 Mech is also moving in.

On the ground-to-air channel, I get hold of Neall, one of our best gunship pilots, and talk to him directly.
He listens to our theory and asks the locstat of our teams. “I’ll go and have a quick shufti,” he says.
YES ! I tell PW. He’s chuffed and tells me he can still hear the cattle down by the river.

The next moment all hell breaks loose there over the weir. Swapo’s AA guns open up and Neall turns away just in time,
avoiding by seconds another chopper being shot down.
But now the war is on.
Called over by Neall, the rest of the gunships come across and open up.
Then the Pumas ferry in the 32 companies who had been on stand-by.

The battle rages all day, with the pilots ccordinating the troops on the ground.
At the end of it, over a hundred Swapos are dead, according to the official communique put out to the public back in South Africa, which is in dire need of some good news after the shock of the day before.
The 14,5’s are taken and PW and his merry men also join in and take revenge.

At the crash site the Ratel guys are met by a sight none of them will ever forget.
At first, they only find fourteen bodies, and we have visions of another South African capture being tortured and led to Luanda.
But the burnt-out wreck and the obvious heat from the fire should have told them the chances of anyone surviving were nil.
In the end they find the fifteenth one,
squashed under a piece of wreckage.
The bodies are flown out.
We don’t leave anyone behind if we can help it.

Later, there are fifteen sad, heart-breaking funerals in South Africa, pictures of coffins, each bedecked with our Orange, White and Blue flag.
And in Angola, there was a simple plank nailed onto a tree, with “In Memory of…” written on it. I'm sure that plank has long gone.
But if you dig, you might still find a piece of metal there, part of the Puma which spilt its precious cargo onto the warm African soil that day…
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